When you first see Matthew Phillips in action, all you see is his long, lithe frame dangling over precipices and straining to maintain his hold on a rocky cliff. You don’t even notice his so-called disability, and that’s just the way he likes it.
Matthew, who hails from the United Kingdom, was born with one arm missing below the elbow. He was also born an athlete with an intrinsic need to conquer every obstacle in his path, no matter how challenging that may be.
Until he was 13 Matt had never even thought about rock climbing. He’d always been an incredibly active child, constantly seeking out new adventures and ways to burn off his seemingly unlimited supply of youthful energy. He was a national swimmer before getting bored of the sport and deciding to give rock climbing a try. In 2013, he entered his first Paraclimbing competition and placed in the top five in spite of never having any formal training. Encouraged, he started working with coach Robin O’Leary the following year.
“When I was younger, I always liked climbing on trees or up walls,” Matt recalled. “I have never been bullied. While there have been the occasional comments, especially from children, it has never bothered me.”
Matthew is now a dedicated paraclimber who competes all over the world. He says his goal is to become a fully professional athlete and compete at the World Championship and the Paralympics. His coach thinks he’s got what it takes.
“The future is incredibly bright for Matt – with the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 and hopefully in the Paralympics, his name is going to be a household one for sure!” said Robin. “I love coaching Matt more than any words can describe. His enthusiasm and passion for the sport matches mine and his willingness to try inspires me daily.”
Matt says that contrary to popular opinion, having just one arm has proven to be an advantage for him. He’s learned to use his body in unexpected ways that give him an edge against traditional climbing. He’s also got a positive outlook that keeps him thinking about what’s possible in life; not what’s out of reach for him because of his missing arm.
“There are always things I can’t do, but it’s not about focusing on what you can’t do – the trick is finding the alternative, the next best thing or something similar,” he said. He also loves surprising people with his talent and pushing himself to literally reach new heights.
“I think what I like the most about climbing is the challenge, being able to do this. It makes me feel like I can do anything. There is also the problem-solving aspect – I have to think outside the box.”
Never once did Matthew look at a sport like rock climbing and think he couldn’t do it. He simply found a way to adapt his body with the sport, becoming a force to be reckoned with at all of the competitions he enters. Next time you’re tempted to think you can’t do something — anything — just remember Matthew.
Watch him in action below and share this story to encourage others to “think outside the box”!
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A nice V3 from a good day out at Bowles today with @tomphi03 . Been a while since I was on sandstone. Some better pictures coming soon. . . . . . . . . @dmm_wales @scarpa_uk @oakwoodclimbing @bootbananas @justkampers @frictionlabs @3rdrocking @dark_ventures @rhinoskinsolutions @gozeroearth @robinoleary
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